July 14, 2013

Running: Clam Festival 5-miler remains among summer classics

By John Rolfe

For a bunch of years the Pat's Pizza Yarmouth Clam Festival Classic 5-mile race was essentially the peak of the summer road racing scene in Maine. That glam role has long been ceded to the TD Beach to Beacon 10K, but Pat's -- which will be run for the 32nd time at 8 a.m. this coming Saturday -- remains among the state's best, highest-profile and most popular events.

For one thing the race has a rich history. Hardly anyone in Maine is inventing 5-milers any more -- they get downsized into 5Ks or fade away, as did the Bert and I 5-miler in Vassalboro. So the 5-milers that remain, for example the ancient and honorable Patriots Day in Portland and Labor Day in Bangor, and others including the venerable Machias Blueberry Festival, Mollyockett Days (Bethel), Northeast Harbor, Potato Blossom (Fort Fairfield) and Bath Heritage Days 5-milers -- soldier on as repositories of the state's road racing heritage.

Yarmouth (or simply Pat's, or the Clam Fest) annually attracts some of the state's finest. Course records are held by Ben True (23 minutes, 27 seconds in 2009) and Sheri Piers, 27:39 last summer (breaking her own 2009 record by 12 seconds, and also setting a masters record). Past winners include Yarmouth's own elites Pat Tarpy and Matt Lane; Bob Winn of Ogunquit and Todd Coffin of Freeport, both former course record-holders; and Christine Snow-Reaser, Julia Kirtland and Olympian Joan Benoit Samuelson (several times), to name a few.

Winn owned the old-course record of 23:56 (1997), beating his 1995 time by two seconds. Samuelson ran a blazing 27:35, also in pre-chip 1997. The course, then rumored mainly by the grousing community to be short, was recertified in 2002 and again last year, when the starting line was moved up the slope a couple dozen feet.

For both the iron and the riff-raff, Yarmouth is an excellent Beach to Beacon tune-up. Even rank-and-file runners who contend for the Clam Fest's prizes of $150 for overall winners and $75 for top masters appreciate the fast course, and I would guess that many hundreds have PRd on it over the years. Following a peak of 1,000-plus entrants and 932 finishers in 2008, participant numbers have been down a bit (723 in 2012, led by Jon Wilson of Falmouth in 24:31), but generally total just under 800, and probably will this year. There are fewer competing races scheduled and as race director Ron Pelton noted, 400-500 people are already signed up, another 100-150 will come in this week, and as many as 350 could register on race day.

Pelton, of Freeport, will be mastering the ceremonies for the 22nd or 23rd time (he's not sure).

As longtime race director he, too, is something of an institution, albeit a sprightly one who ran his 26th marathon (Bay of Fundy) last month, 10 days after turning 60. You may well have heard his distinctive announcer's voice welcoming you to the finish line of the Maine Marathon and Half Marathon the past 10-plus years.

Pelton's race-day setting up begins a little after 4 a.m. He is helped by about 60 volunteers, including his son, Erik, 30, who's coming from Colorado to volunteer (for about the 20th year). And daughter Ashley, 27, is coming from California to race.

There won't be any changes on the storied route that begins on the Main Street upgrade; turns right past Mile 1 onto North Road for a generally steamy mile and a half (festival weekend, the third weekend in July, has been called on average the hottest of the year); past Mile 3, plunges downhill to the Royal River Park path, along which the Mile 4 marker is easy to miss, and it's tight quarters for the pack; then ascends out of the park and goes left, up again a little more on East Elm, and then sharp left for a rewarding quarter-mile rush back down Main to one of the state's best finishes, for both racers and spectators.

A couple differences Pelton did mention: The portion of the riverside path washed out by heavy rain last year has been repaired, so the path is restored to its normal width. And in quiet recognition of the tragedy at the Boston Marathon, no starting cannon will be fired. Instead there will be a verbal start provided by Rosalie Baker-Brown of Yarmouth.

Baker-Brown, 85, is a native of Hopkinton, Mass., (where Boston begins) who has been watching Boston since she was a little girl, and has often volunteered. This year she attended Boston to watch her niece (who had to drop out halfway), and also fired the race's starting pistol.

The early pre-registration entry fee has expired and the price is now $30, but there's still room to sign up and get one of the 700 tech T-shirts and of course the $3 Pat's certificate.

You can register online, and also find a printable entry form and more information, at www.mainetrackclub.com.

John Rolfe of Portland is a road runner. He can be reached at 791-6429 or at:

jrolfe@pressherald.com

 

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